Gorillaz return with mainstream magic

Category:  The Arts
Wednesday, April 26th, 2017 at 5:10 PM
Gorillaz return with mainstream magic by Britton Rozzelle

Seven years ago, “The Fall,” Damon Albarn’s farewell of sorts to the virtual band Gorillaz was released.

After a long wait, Noodle, 2D, Russel and Murdoc are back with “Humanz,” a dark, contemporary dance album that feels perfectly tuned to the music industry in 2017.

The interludes, narrated by Ben Mendelsohn, serve to break up the songs into four sections, each representing a different feeling on the album — the first kicking off with “Ascension” (featuring Vince Staples), one of the first songs off the album released to the public. It lays down a relentless and in-your-face nature that can be found in the rest of the tracks. It uses Staples pretty effectively, allowing Albarn to weave into the fray smoothly without breaking the rhythm. Altogether, it exemplifies a lot of what it seems this “era” of Gorillaz is — lots of powerful/loud/energetic electronic tones and samples alongside songwriting that feels the closest to “Demon Days” since its release.

The follow up, Strobelite is arguably one of the strongest songs on the album and one of my personal favorites. It slips very casually into a classic disco affair, but with lyrics and modern sensibilities that are accentuated perfectly by featured artist: Peven Everett. With a playful tone and whimsical production, it stands out as one of the strongest tracks on the album, especially when next to the relatively weak “Saturnz Bars.” A track that could have been stronger with a better sense of self and more of Albarn’s vocals and falls into a trap that this album does repeatedly — making the second half house both verses from Albarn and a featured artist, which can be seen on “Charger” and “She’s My Collar.”

“Momentz” is a special track; it’s one entirely comprised of all the good things about Gorillaz songs. It’s relentless, dark and dangerous, like something you’d hear at one of those dark and dingy clubs led by vampires in “Blade” (a bit of a stretch I know, but I absolutely love the vibe this song gives off). It’s expertly produced and layered, and has such an infectious rhythm that it’s hard not to love it, and while “Momentz” represents the dark, “Submission” represents something else entirely. It’s lyrically seductive, and Kelela’s vocals mirror those of Yukimi Nagano from Little Dragon, a frequently featured artist on De La and Gorillaz tracks.

It works well, and is overall a great pop song. That being said, I can’t help but feel that Brown’s verse just kind of comes out of nowhere and while it ultimately works, it was a bit jarring upon first listen.

For being a song that allegedly spawned from Grace Jones ad-libbing for four hours, she’s not only barely featured on “Charger,” but when she is it just lends to the incredibly repetitious nature of it.

I think it’s the weakest track on here, potentially next to “Hallelujah Money,” unfortunately because it could have been something special given the people involved.

By the time the third interlude comes around, the album levels out dramatically and becomes a generally good experience for all. The highs (“Strobelite,” “Momentz”) and the lows (“Saturnz Barz,” “Charger”) are all front loaded, taking some of the excitement out of the following great tracks like “Andromeda” and “Sex Murder Party.”

Oddly enough “Busted and Blue,” and “Carnival” are fine songs but they feel incredibly oddly placed on the album. The former is quite understated, but is probably one of the most strongly produced/presented tracks on the album, while the latter is a bit more like a “Submission” follow up.

“Let Me Out” is another track that isn’t much other than “fine.” My biggest qualm with the song is that it doesn’t sound like anything other than a mid 2000s hip hop song (not that that’s a particularly bad thing). It’s very by-the-books, and not as unique as a Gorillaz track tends to be. That being said, it uses the featured artists really well, while still allowing room for Albarn’s vocals and for that it definitely gets some recognition.

The last track, “We Got The Power,” isn’t perfect, and I wasn’t exactly in love with it when I first heard it, but it does a very good job of leaving the album off on a strong, hopeful and powerful note by fusing the sounds of Gorillaz with Jehnny Beth, BUT ALSO Noel Gallagher from Oasis, which is something interesting in itself. It really doesn’t feel like the end of an album though, so I’m very interested in hearing the rest once the deluxe version drops.

Overall, “Humanz” is a fun concept album, it’s brooding and heavy but equally fun and lyrically creative. It’s no “Demon Days,” but it’s also no “The Fall,” which should be a comfort for most.

Regardless, check it out if you like energetic pop music about death and dying like I do.

Britton Rozzelle is the executive editor for The Spectator. He can be reached at musics.spectator@gmail.com. 

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